When you think about it, there's little surprise that the number of couples filing for divorce rises dramatically every January. And this year, is no different. Many couples who've made the decision to split intentionally wait until after the holidays to break the news to their children. Others hold off in anticipation of year-end job bonuses to help cover attorney, moving and other related expenses.
This surge in divorces translates into a large number of children who are suddenly facing the reality that their family life will be dramatically changing. And regardless of why the separation came about, the big question that needs to be addressed is: How are these parents going to approach their divorce - and how will it affect their innocent children?
Winter separations can be especially difficult for children coming as it does in the middle of the school year. Parents need to bend over backwards to minimize the changes and transitions in their child's life so as to keep school-related schedules, after-school activities, playtime with friends and other routines as much the same as possible.
I, too, started the divorce process in January back when my son was eleven years old. Choosing to co-parent, my former husband and I each maintained a residence, intentionally located a couple of miles apart. Our son got off the school bus at one house or the other, with little disruption of his normal routine. At the end of the school year one of his teachers remarked to me that she was quite surprised to learn of our divorce because my son didn't skip a beat in school. He still maintained his good grades and sports activities. I believe our conscious intention to minimize the changes in his life made a positive difference in his adjustment.
Little did I know then that a decade later I would be writing a book, founding the Child-Centered Divorce Network, and devoting my life to helping parents make child-centered decisions during and after divorce.
My advice to parents is simple, but not always easy. Put yourself in your child's place and feel the insecurity, fear, anxiety, guilt and shame that your child may be experiencing. Make decisions based on how he or she is going to look back and remember these next several years. Ask yourself these crucial questions:
• Did you put their physical, emotional and psychological needs first?
• Did you respect the fact that children innately love both parents and are wounded when one of them is disparaged, regardless of your personal perspective about it?
• Did you force your child to be a spy or go-between, taking on responsibilities that children should not bear?
• Did you ask your child to choose between loving Mom or Dad, or take sides in any way?
• Did you keep their other parent from active participation in their life because you wanted to hurt your spouse?
These are destructive behaviors and decisions often made without considering the effects on the children who are inevitably scarred from the inside out. And this damage need not take place. I firmly believe, and studies have proven this to be true: It's not divorce per se that harms children. It's the parent's approach to divorce that makes all the difference in the world. Tension, discord, anger, and intentional disrespect toward the other parent acted out in front of the children is the real source of pain and emotional damage in young psyches.
How are you approaching these challenges? Think twice about every decision you make - and consider the consequences for your children. They'll thank you when they're grown!